I’ve never said the words “good job” to my toddler. I was lucky – I stumbled on Alfie Kohn’s book Punished by Rewards early enough that I was able to break the habit before my daughter had really done anything much that might be construed as requiring a “good job.”
I’m going to be absolutely transparent here and say that this episode draws very heavily on Alfie Kohn’s book Punished by Rewards, which – along with one of his other books, Unconditional Parenting, are a cornerstone of my approach to parenting. If you have time, you should absolutely buy the book and read it yourself. But assuming you don’t have the time for 300 pages of (really, very good) writing plus a hundred more of notes and references to explain why both physical and verbal rewards are just as harmful to your children as punishing them, this episode will help you to get to the crux of the issue much faster. I’ll also get into the research that Kohn draws on, as well as relevant research that’s been published since the book came out in 1993.
Kohn’s thesis is that saying “good job” is really no different than punishing your child, since rewards are essentially the same thing – stimuli designed to elicit a response. He argues that while this approach is actually quite effective in the short term, not only is it not effective in the long term but it doesn’t mesh well with the kinds of relationships that many of us think or say we want to have with our children.
Birch, LL., Marlin, D.W., & Rotter, J. (1984). Eating as the ‘means’ activity in a contingency: Effects on young children’s food preferences. Child Development 55, 432-439. Retrieved from: https://www.jstor.org/stable/1129954?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents
Brummelman, E., Tomaes, S., Overbeek, G., Orobio de Castro, B., van den Hout, M.A., & Bushman, B.J. (2014). On feeding those hungry for praise: Person praise backfires in children with low self-esteem. Journal of Experimental Psychology 143(1), 9-14.
Condry, J. (1977). Enemies of exploration: Self-initiated versus other-initiated learning. Personality and Social Psychology 35(7), 459-477.
Dweck, C. (2006). Mindset: The new psychology of success. New York: Ballantine.
Eisenberger, R. & Rhoades, L. (2001). Incremental effects of reward on creativity. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 81(4), 728-741. DOI: 10.1037//0022-35184.108.40.2068
Gottfried, A.E., Fleming, J.S., & Gottfried, A.W. (1994). Role of parental motivational practices in children’s academic intrinsic motivation and achievement. Journal of Educational Psychology 86(1), 104-113.
Gray, P. (2016). Children’s natural ways of educating themselves still work: Even for the three Rs. In D.C. Geary & D.B. Berch (Eds.), Evolutionary perspectives on child development and education (67-93). Cham, Switzerland: Springer International Publishing.
Jeffery, R.W., Drewnowski, A., Epstein, L.H., Stunkard, A.J., Wilson, G.T., Wing, R.R., & Hill, D.R. (2000). Long-term maintenance of weight loss: Current status. Health Psychology 19(1 Suppl.), 5-16. DOI: 10.1037//0278-6133.19.1(Suppl.).5
Kazdin, A.E. (1982). The token economy: A decade later. Applied Behavior Analysis 15, 431-445. Full article available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1308287/
Kohn, A. (1993). Punished by Rewards. Boston: Houghton Mifflin. (Affiliate link)
Kohn, A. (2001). Five reasons to stop saying “Good Job!”. Retrieved from: http://www.alfiekohn.org/article/five-reasons-stop-saying-good-job/
Pomerantz, E.M., & Kempner, S.G. (2013). Mother’s daily person and process praise: Implications for children’s theory of intelligence and motivation. Developmental Psychology 49(1), 2040-2046.
Rietzschel, E.F., Zacher, H., & Stroebe, W. (2016). A lifespan perspective on creativity and innovation at work. Work, Aging and Retirement 2(2), 105-129.
Schwartz, B. (1982). Reinforcement-induced behavioral stereotypy: How not to teach people to discover rules. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General 111(1), 23-59.